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A Broker’s Guide to CSA Scores: How Do CSA Percentiles Work?

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Did you know that a CSA (compliance, safety, accountability) rating can make or break a carrier’s career?

In fact, CSA scores are critical and can determine a carrier’s success. CSA scores are assigned to a motor carrier’s unique transportation number rather than a driver’s personal record. The lower their score, the better. Carriers with low CSA scores get access to preferred loads and lower insurance premiums. If the carrier doesn’t manage the CSA score well, their scores go up. A high SCA score can result in an out-of-service order.

But what is a CSA score, how does it work for drivers, and why is it essential to brokers? Let’s dig in.

What is the CSA program?

The CSA program is safety compliance and enforcement of the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). This program holds drivers and motor carriers accountable for their roles in road safety.

The CSA program identifies motor carriers with safety problems and prioritizes them for interventions such as warning letters and investigations. FMCSA holds the safety record of each carrier in its SMS (safety measurement system) and updates it monthly with new data from roadside inspections.

The CSA program considers the following aspects:

  • Unsafe driving—improper lane change, speeding, reckless driving, inattention, no seatbelts
  • Crash indicator—crash involvement histories
  • Hours-of-service (HOS) compliance—non-compliance with HOS regulations
  • Vehicle maintenance—lights, brakes, defects
  • Controlled substances/alcohol—use or possession of controlled substances or alcohol
  • Hazardous materials compliance—improper packaging and leaking containers
  • Driver fitness—having an invalid driver’s license or being medically unfit to operate the vehicle

What is a CSA score?

FMCSA uses a CSA score to identify high-risk motor carriers that might require interventions. Only the violations that occur while operating commercial vehicles are included in the CSA score, not personal vehicles.

As mentioned earlier, CSA scores run from low to high. The lower the CSA score, the better. When a driver’s CSA score is high, FMCSA has the power to issue interventions and fines. However, they can’t suspend a driver’s CDL (commercial driver’s license).

A carrier’s score is based on the performance data of its drivers. As a broker, it’s essential to check CSA scores, so you know you’re working with safe, compliant carriers.

Do individual carriers have CSA scores?

Drivers don’t have individual CSA scores unless they are owner-operators. If the roadside inspection results in violations, it will be assigned to the motor carrier’s unique transportation number.

However, drivers have unique pre-employment screening program records with FMCSA. This record includes a driver’s five-year crash and three-year roadside inspection data. While these records aren’t public, drivers, carriers, and related industry companies can find them for pre-employment screening.

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CSA BASICs categories

FMCSA uses BASICs—seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories to determine a motor carrier’s safety performance and compliance. These categories make up the total CSA score.

You can find carrier safety data online in the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System, also known as SMS.

Here’s what SMS data considers:

  • The number of inspections and safety violations
  • The severity of any safety violations and crashes
  • The timing of the violation – more recent events have more weight
  • The number of trucks that trucking companies operate as a carrier
  • The number of critical violations found during the investigation

Let’s review each BASICs category in detail to find out what they include.

Unsafe driving

The Unsafe Driving BASIC prioritizes interventions for repeated unsafe behaviors, such as:

  • Inattention
  • Improper lane change
  • Reckless driving
  • Speeding
  • Using a mobile phone hands-on
  • Texting

Crash indicator

The crash indicator BASIC identifies patterns of high crash involvement and includes any state crash reports dating back to the last two years.

Any crashes that involve commercial motor vehicles are reportable if they:

  • Result in injury or fatality
  • Require a vehicle towing from the crash scene

The crash indicator BASIC is not public and is only available to a motor carrier who’s logged into its own safety profile and enforcement staff.

HOS compliance

Hours-of-service compliance requires you to follow the HOS regulations and set a time for a break. This regulation ensures drivers don’t drive tired and get proper rest to stay awake and alert to respond to any roadside situations quickly.

Visit the FMCSA website for the latest information and regulations on HOS.

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Vehicle maintenance

Proper vehicle maintenance plays a crucial role in a safe road environment. That’s why it’s essential to get the carriers you’re working with to conduct pre- and post-trip inspections, record any vehicle defects, and perform maintenance and repairs before they operate the vehicle.

Controlled substances/alcohol

Drivers and carriers are prohibited from taking any drugs or alcohol before or while driving.

Misusing over-the-counter and prescription medication or consuming illegal drugs and alcohol impair driving abilities. It’s not only illegal, but it’s dangerous for drivers and anyone on the road. Even having containers of alcoholic beverages in the vehicle – open or not – is a violation.

Hazardous materials compliance

The hazardous materials (HM) compliance BASIC includes following regulations to give special attention to hazardous packages. This includes proper packaging, marking, labeling, placarding, loading, and unloading hazardous materials.

The carriers you’re working with must also understand tank specification testing, attendance, and leakage regulations.

Driver fitness

To help your network perform well in this BASIC, keep driving records up-to-date and complete – these factors determine the driver’s fitness. You must ensure that the required files of each driver include valid CDLs (commercial driver’s licenses), state driving records, and employment applications.

Note: Don’t confuse the driver’s fitness with the driver’s physical fitness. This BASIC doesn’t consider anything related to weight, BMI, or neck size.

The 4 main categories of FMCSA ratings

CSA compliance checks will find FMSCA rating in four categories:

  • No Rating: This is given to carriers that have not yet undergone an audit. It does not indicate any problem, just that they have not been audited.
  • Satisfactory: Carriers that meet or exceed FMCSA guidelines for safety practices are deemed satisfactory.
  • Conditional: Auditors may rate a carrier as conditional if an audit determines that most of the FMCSA safety guidelines are being followed.
  • Unsatisfactory: An unsatisfactory rating applies to trucking companies where audits have uncovered significant deficiencies in FMCSA safety guidelines.

In a safety compliance review, most brokers avoid trucking companies with conditional or unsatisfactory ratings.

Calculating CSA-e percentile scores

You already know what factors play a role in calculating CSA scores. But how does the pointing system work?

FMCSA assigns points to carriers, ranking the number and severity of violations and accidents on a scale from 0 to 100. The time when the offense took place, and the number of miles traveled per vehicle play a significant role in calculating CSA points.

For example, a carrier with two violations in three total inspections is more likely to rank with a higher percentile than a carrier with two violations in nine total inspections. The higher the percentile, the more dangerous the carrier is for the road.

What’s more, some BASIC violations carry more weight than others. Let’s look at some of the BASIC violation examples and what points they’re associated with.

10-point violations:

  • Texting or using a hand-held mobile phone while driving
  • Reckless driving
  • Speeding – going 15 or more MPH above the speed limit
  • Speeding in a construction zone
  • Driving while being fatigued or physically ill
  • Driving under the effect of drugs or alcohol

8-point violations:

  • Unfit or unqualified driver
  • Not holding a proper or valid CDL

7-point violations:

  • Not using a seat belt
  • Speeding 11-14 MPH above the speed limit
  • Requiring drivers to drive for more than 11 hours
  • 11-, 14-, and 60/70-hour rule violation
  • Providing inaccurate information on the RODS (record of duty status)

6-point violations:

  • Headlamps, tail lamps, brake lamps, or turn signals not operating properly
  • Obscured lamps or reflectors

5-point violations:

  • Following other vehicles too closely
  • Not obeying a traffic control device
  • Improper lane change or passing
  • Failing to slow down or stop when approaching a railroad crossing
  • Taking a route that requires the vehicle to operate above the speed limit

What is a good CSA-e percentile?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific definition of what constitutes a good CSA score or a bad CSA score. There’s no minimum score that determines when the FMCSA will take action. Instead, CSA points are comparative. They work in relation to the scores of other similar carriers.

However, the FMCSA has certain intervention thresholds. Going above the threshold triggers an investigation.

  • Unsafe driving, crash indicator, and HOS—65%
  • Hazardous materials and passenger carriers—60% – 50%
  • Any remaining BASICS—80%

This information can help you when evaluating carriers to add to your network.

Why CSA-e percentiles are important for brokers

As a freight broker, you can use CSA percentiles combined with other data points and reports to qualify and vet carriers and drivers into your network. Most importantly, CSA-e scores can help you mitigate the violation and crash risks and run your brokerage business smoothly.

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Use SaferWatch® to automate CSA-e score monitoring

Whether you’re experienced checking CSA-e percentiles, or you’re new to the process, doing it manually can be extremely tedious and time-consuming, not to mention introduce DOT compliance risks you might expose yourself to.

That’s why it’s important to use a professional automation tool like SaferWatch® to help you monitor carrier compliance and safety status. SaferWatch® is designed specifically for freight brokers to save you time, mitigate compliance risks, and source quality carriers faster.

Schedule a demo today to learn more about efficiently monitoring your carrier network.

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